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Are You Sober Curious?

What really happens when you cut back on alcohol.

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animation of different wine glasses, sober, drinking, alcohol
JR Bee
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If you started drinking more during the pandemic, you are not alone. If it has negatively impacted your life, however, there is something you can do about it.      

Alcoholism is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States., according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The sober-curious movement, which is the choice to refrain from drinking not because of an addiction, is a step in the right direction. While men display a higher prevalence for alcoholism, it is women who suffer a far greater risk for physical harm from drinking.      

If your level of concern has heightened along with your level of consumption, it may be wise to join the sober-curious movement.      

The movement began as a public health initiative in the United Kingdom in 2012, by Alcohol Change UK. In January 2021, about 1 in 7 Americans planned to participate in Dry January, a monthlong break from alcohol, according to the international research group YouGov.

For generations American culture, from the film industry to advertisements, has conditioned us to believe drinking makes life more tolerable and fun. Molly Watts, the 57-year-old author of Breaking the Bottle Legacy, views the movement as “a chance to set the record straight and dispel some of the cultural myths surrounding alcohol.”

The Portland, Oregon resident believed the stories about why she needed a drink, until she discovered that none of them were true.

“Getting curious about minimizing alcohol or choosing sober living allows us to question our beliefs about alcohol and make better decisions with the facts,” Watts says.

Indeed, people who do pursue bouts of sobriety often cite better sleep, weight loss, saving money and improvement in overall health.      

Even since I got sober 10 years ago, countless people still invite me out for drinks, including those who know I am sober. This, after stopping when I hit two bottles of wine a day.  

“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” joke top comedians, cheap dish towels, refrigerator magnets and friends to each other — at 3 p.m.      

For generations, alcohol been a mainstay of American culture perpetuated by the term “happy hour,” designed to lift your workday spirits with spirits. Pay attention if your own regular TGIF happy hour is turning into hours of daily indulging. Excessive drinking is often a rite of passage that begins in high school. Many of us remember weekend nights as a teen in the 1970s downing sweet and cheap Ripple or Boone’s Farm in parking lots.

Young or old, alcohol is used as a social lubricant — and unfortunately, does work well as a swift icebreaker. Commercials depicting beautiful people sipping cosmopolitans or single malt scotch adds the lure of sex appeal.      

The attraction often continues into adulthood. Sarah Edmunds, a therapist in Potomac, Maryland, has seen a recent uptick in her clients who have become concerned about their drinking levels.

“Many people who drink too much are women over 50 who live alone — or are dealing with issues of aging, empty nest, empty marriage and divorce,” Edmunds explains. Seniors are at even a higher risk for alcohol dependence, she notes, “due to the greater likelihood of being isolated from family and friends, especially since COVID hit. Connection is often an antidote to addiction, we in the sobriety community say.”      

Sarah O’Brien, an addiction specialist with Ark Behavioral Health, underscores the effects of the COVID years on turning to medicating substances: “Unfortunately, alcohol and drug consumption has turned into a day-to-day coping mechanism to ease pain and uncertainties.”      

For “normies,” as those of us in recovery sometimes refer to people who can control their drinking, taking time off from alcohol has numerous benefits. Binge drinking is linked to cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as car accidents and drunk-driving charges. And I, for one, am much happier to wake up without a headache and not struggling to remember if I did or said anything the previous night that I regret.      

Ella Fales, 61, from Canton, Ohio, changed the way she drinks for health reasons and to enjoy socializing more. “Today, my choices to limit alcohol are effortless, automatic and guilt-free,” she says. “I am learning to apply this same mentality to other choices that tend to be made under pressure, like consuming sweets, caffeine and junk food or overeating at gatherings. It’s very liberating. The positive changes for my body and mind are priceless.”      

The money that nondrinkers save is a silver lining. I recently joined friends for drinks. While I sipped a sparkling water, I was shocked at the $15 that even a glass of house wine can run nowadays.      

Some 25,000 women have joined the Sober-Minded Sisterhood for an annual 21-day alcohol reset challenge. Sober Sis, founded by 50-year-old Jenn Kautsch of Fort Worth, Texas, is about empowering women to evaluate their relationship with alcohol in a safe space without labels, shame or judgment.        

“It really boils down to what one’s mindset and motivation is when drinking,” Kautsch says. “I wanted to look at my relationship with alcohol from a holistic perspective and to get to the root of why I was drinking at all.”

By becoming a Sober Sis, Kautsch describes “feeling aligned and free from something that was holding me back.”      

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